Powered Haulage Safety

With MSHA Focusing On The Risks Of Powered Haulage, Planning And Assessment Are Critical For Quarry Operators. 

By Brian Hendrix

Right now, MSHA is focusing on powered haulage safety. It is fair to say that powered haulage safety is one of – if not THE – highest priority for MSHA. It’s not difficult to see why: nine of the 17 fatalities this year have been associated with powered haulage. 

However, this isn’t a new development. MSHA identified powered haulage safety as a priority back in 2017. In 2018, MSHA launched its Powered Haulage Safety Initiative, noting that “[a]bout half of all U.S. mining fatalities in recent years – including 13 of the 27 fatalities in 2018 – were due to accidents involving powered haulage.” MSHA has since devoted considerable resources to enforcement, education, training and outreach on powered haulage safety. 

MSHA also invited mine operators, miners, equipment manufacturers and other stakeholders to submit “data and information on technologies such as collision warning, proximity detection systems, seat belt starter interlock systems, and other technologies that can reduce accidents involving power haulage equipment.” 

Stakeholders responded to this request with an impressive and very diverse array of ideas, suggestions, best practices and other information. MSHA culled what it considered the best of the information it received and shared it broadly. MSHA also used some of this data and information to draft a new, proposed rule that MSHA will likely publish in July.

Thus, mine operators should be paying close attention to powered haulage safety. MSHA’s lists of “Powered Haulage Practices” are a good place to start, although I’ll explain below why those lists are just a very basic starting point. 

Also, it is important to keep in mind that MSHA classifies “mobile equipment, conveyor systems and anything else under power that hauls people or materials” as “powered haulage.” In other words, “powered haulage” includes many different types of equipment. 

With that, here are the Powered Haulage Best Practices identified by MSHA: 

Powered Haulage Best Practices – Surface

  • Always dump material in a safe location.
  • Always construct substantial berms as a visual indicator to prevent over travel.
  • Establish safe traffic patterns with proper signage.
  • Chock the wheels or turn them into a bank when parking mobile equipment on a grade.

Powered Haulage Best Practices – Underground 

  • Stop and sound an audible warning device before tramming equipment through ventilation curtains.
  • Look in the direction of travel and stay in the operator’s compartment while operating mobile equipment.
  • Install reflective signs or warning lights in low clearance areas.

Powered Haulage Best Practices – Conveyors

  • Design, install, and maintain guards.
  • Lock out – Tag out: Lock and tag conveyors before performing work.

Again, these practices are very basic, almost generic, and many are already required by one or more of MSHA’s existing standards. However, as I noted above, MSHA will soon publish a new rule on powered haulage, and that’s where the rubber will really hit the road. MSHA has indicated that the proposed rule will require mine operators to develop mine specific plans for powered haulage safety.

We won’t know what’s in the proposed rule until it is published by MSHA. If the rule is technology forcing, it will not be well received. In other words, if MSHA proposes a rule that requires all mine operators to install certain proximity detection devices, blind spot monitoring systems, etc. on all mobile equipment, it will not be welcomed. Ideally, MSHA will propose a rule that encourages and incentivizes the adoption of such new devices and technology. 

Similarly, I’d expect industry to challenge any rule that requires mine operators in metal/non-metal to obtain MSHA’s approval of powered haulage plans. Coal operators need MSHA’s approval for a range of different plans, e.g. roof control, ventilation. In coal, you need MSHA’s approval to operate. For many good reasons, that’s not the case in metal/non-metal and never has been. We all know that a rule need not be expressly or explicitly “technology forcing” if it obligated all mine operators to obtain an MSHA approved plan. 

However, if MSHA proposes a rule that requires mine operators to develop mine specific plans for powered haulage safety and to implement those plans through training and enforcement, it should receive broad support. 

Ideally, MSHA will propose a rule that requires operators to develop a plan that characterizes or assesses the mine-specific risks presented by powered haulage using a deliberate, structured process and then and identifies the actions necessary to mitigate. Put simply, I hope that MSHA proposes a rule that embraces modern risk assessment and risk management systems. 

The reason for that is simple: risk assessment and risk management systems work. They are critical, integral elements of any truly effective safety and health program. Static, reactive approaches to safety and health will only take us so far. Many mine operators in the United States have long recognized this fact and act accordingly. 

For its part, MSHA’s focus has always been on enforcing compliance with static, proscriptive regulations. In rulemaking and enforcement, MSHA has not taken a risk management approach. It has, however, long recognized the value of risk management systems and approaches to safety and health. MSHA has been promoting an informal risk assessment program – MSHA’s Stop-Look-Analyze-Manage (SLAM) program – since 2005. 

We will see what direction MSHA takes this summer when it publishes its proposed powered haulage safety rule. If you haven’t already, you need not and should not wait for the MSHA’s proposed rule to develop and implement a mine-specific plan for powered haulage safety.

Brian Hendrix is a partner at Husch Blackwell LLP. As a member of the Energy & Natural Resources group, he advises clients on environmental, health and safety law, with a focus on litigation, incident investigations, enforcement defense and regulatory compliance counseling. He can be reached [email protected].

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